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Today I am exploring the attributes of a good writer. I want to distinguish between things good writers do and things good writers are, their qualities. A successful novelist needs to be able to sit and work, but does this describe the writer? Am I someone able to sit and work hard on a single subject for long hours? I think this describes actions good writers do, not things good writers are. Adverbs versus adjectives. As I research this subject, I find many articles that prescribe activities writers must do to achieve this notion of greatness, but very few discuss what characteristics these writers inherently possess. In The 6 Unique Traits of All Remarkable Writers, Demian Farnworth discusses actions rather than traits:

1. Remarkable writers have the ability to size up content
2. Remarkable writers are able to connect the dots
3. Remarkable writers can express ideas clearly
4. Remarkable writers can write in their head
5. Remarkable writers read with a deep purpose
6. Remarkable writers swing the snow shovel

There is a subtle distinction here, but when you examine each in detail, you do realize these describe actions a writer must perform: she or she must size up content, connect the dots, express ideas clearly, write in their heads (write constantly), read with deep purpose, and swing the snow shovel (work hard). These are actions, not traits.

Compare to a photo I discovered posted by Random House on Facebook.


On first read this image seems rather tongue-in-cheek, a parody of who novelists are. Stereotypical profiling. We read it, smile, and brush it off. We do not wish to think of ourselves as socially inept losers of this game of capitalism. But isn’t this image more or less true? I tally Seven of Nine for myself, my own personal debauchery:

Seven Of Nine

But how unique are these traits? I’ll bet the same images can apply to just about any profession. I know for a fact that accountants are way more screwed up than novelists, if this is the benchmark. And computer programmers live in their own, higher (lower) realm of pathos.

Joyce and Jim Lavene offer some corroboration in their book The Everything Guide To Novel Writing with a list on page six:

Beyond working hard to get their writing published, there are other characteristics that seem to define successful novelists:

* Focused enough to finish an entire book but restless and unhappy in other work
* Strongly creative, usually in more than one art form, despite childhood admonitions to be more practical
* Tend to have many different jobs in their lifetime. (Others interpret this as lack of commitment, but writers see it as research.)
* Have problems with being labeled as “dreamers”
* Have a burning desire to tell a story and can see their story played out before them like a movie.

Consistent with Random House’s cartoon image, but are these valid? I spend a lot of time thinking about cause and effect, especially with nutrition and health. I won’t go into that rat hole today, but let me say that often we interpret symptoms as causes. I will rapid-fire my comments. I don’t want to write a whole book on this, not yet.

> I am focused enough to finish work because I enjoy it.
> Creativity is hard work (Csikszentmihalyi).
> Because our ideal job (writing, painting, sculpting, etc.) do not pay.
> Because our ideal job (writing, painting, sculpting, etc.) do not pay.
> Isn’t this the crux of it?

If all it takes is to love to write, wouldn’t we all be Stephen Kings, John Irvings, or *cough* J.K. Rowlings?

I think it is clear that successful novelists do live on a special plane of the writers dimension. With the risks of delving into things writer’s must do again and into areas I have not yet fully explored, I will give my own list of things writers must be or be capable of:

* Lavenes’ “Have a burning desire to tell a story and can see their story played out before them like a movie.”
* Delaney’s “The talented writer often uses specifics and avoids generalities — generalities that his or her specifics suggest. Because they are suggested, rather than stated, they may register with the reader far more forcefully than if they were articulated. Using specifics to imply generalities — whether they are general emotions we all know or ideas we have all vaguely sensed — is dramatic writing.
* Innately feels conflict, tension, and draw. They know their ambiguous suggestion raises questions and they play it to its max.
* They feel the emotion and are able to match their sentence form to their emotional content.
* They can become their characters and live in their fictional world.
* They can write images, typically subtle and subliminal.

I could write all day on this, but I won’t. It is a topic for a MFA student to tackle fully and logically. I have explored these ideas for my own personal satisfaction (not really), have examined my own values and beliefs (even if I haven’t written about them much), and it is time to move on. No, I do not think writers are only those who experience social rejection. They are not outcasts but walk their own paths, have stepped out of social norms on their own. When you take your own route, you will tend to get lost. Waywardness is a symptom of us doing what we want to do rather than what we are supposed to do.

In the end, I hope we never arrive at a consensus. I like mysteries and I want the question to persist. It’s too early for resolution.